Skip to main content

What We Need from a Curriculum Management System

In a previous article, we discussed what a curriculum management system is and how the University could benefit from the implementation of such a system. Since that time, we have been busy reaching out to stakeholders from across the University to better understand their existing pain points in managing courses, curricula and the catalog.

We spoke to the following individuals for this article, many of whom have been participating in the early conversations on identifying and implementing a curriculum management system because they are stakeholders in course, curriculum and catalog processes.

  • Victoria Bartlett, Curriculum Services Liaison for the Office of Medical Education Technology (MedEDTech)
  • Lori Hullings, Academic Senate Executive Director
  • Shelly Janger, Curriculum Director for the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SSPPS)
  • Kimberley Newmark, Assistant Registrar
  • Bekah Palmer, Academic Services Manager for the Division of Extended Studies
  • Alyssa Simons, Student Affairs Coordinator for the Department of Literature within the School of Arts and Humanities
  • Ashley Welch, Academic Senate Associate Director
  • Erik Winter-Villaluz, Technical Project Manager for School of Biological Sciences and currently the project manager for the Instructional Scheduling Assistant (ISA)

While it was impossible to capture all the current pain points in the time we had to write this article, what we heard from the above stakeholders roughly fell into the following categories.

  • Approval workflows
  • Tracking of changes
  • Managing the downstream effects of changes
  • Learning outcome tracking
  • Catalog management
  • Ecosystem integrations
  • Clarity of standards
  • Ability to continue to evolve with changes

Approval Workflows

For Shelly Janger at SSPPS, the ability to process approvals electronically is at the top of her wish list. “We would love to be able to do course approvals electronically,” she explained, but eCourse, the main campus’ current system for course approvals, doesn’t currently support the needs of SSPPS. Neither does it support the School of Medicine (SOM). Instead both SOM and SSPPS approve courses the old-fashioned way: an ink signature on a piece of paper, followed by manual entry into the student information system (SIS).

Bekah Palmer from the Division of Extended Studies, also mentioned approval workflows as a key area for improvement. “It’s not easy for stakeholders to see where in the process proposals are,” she said. Extended Studies also cannot use eCourse, because their processes differ from those of main campus. For Bekah, an easy to follow and transparent process in only one system would make a huge difference in streamlining the course approval process.

Curriculum management systems not only provide customizable workflows for approval processes, but they also allow for multiple, differing workflows. This means that SOM, SSPPS, and Extended Studies could all have workflows specific to their needs, without affecting other approval workflows, such as those of main campus.

Tracking Changes

For Bekah, having better historical records and records of changes would also be a huge step towards greater consistency in enacting policy and serving students. “There are some things that are simply… lost to history,” she explained, “and no one has the time to do the forensics or archeology necessary to understand what happened and why.”

Some approvals are old and only exist on paper, others are digital but not in a format where it’s easy to extract information; it is hard to gather reliable historical information when the data is in different places and in different formats. Kimberley from the Registrar’s Office and Erik the ISA project manager also talked about paper approvals and difficulty accessing historical information as significant pain points.

Lori, Ashley, Kimberley, and others we spoke to also expressed a need for the course approval system to better track changes both within individual approvals (who edited what and when), as well as over the history of a course or program.

Curriculum management systems have the ability to track changes, especially historical changes to a course or program, making it easier to understand what happened, when it happened, and other details related to the approval of those changes.

Managing Downstream Effects of Changes

A significant pain point for Alyssa from the Literature Department is the fact that there is no easy way to see how courses are connected and who will be affected by changes to a course. There are many cross-listed, conjoined or co-scheduled courses or courses that share prerequisites across the university. There are also courses that are used in multiple programs. This is a great example of how the many departments in the university collaborate to serve our students. But, this also means that if one department makes a change to a course, it has the potential to affect many other departments. Right now, there is no easy way to understand those kinds of implications.

Most curriculum management systems are able to make visible the connections between courses and programs, allowing proposers to clearly understand the implications of their suggested changes.

Learning Outcome Tracking

For Shelly, one of her key responsibilities is mapping learning objectives for each course in their program to be able to prove that they are meeting the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) standards. The School of Medicine has to do similar reporting to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

When asked how SSPPS manages this work now, Shelly explained they use an Excel spreadsheet and a homegrown database. Faculty report every quarter on which standards their courses meet via the Excel spreadsheet. Then Shelly enters that information into the database, so that they can generate quarterly and yearly reports. It’s a time consuming process, and the multiple entry points allow more room for error.

Some curriculum management systems offer the ability to track learning outcomes across courses and programs and even to connect those with learning management systems or syllabi, aiding in the ability to ensure students are reaching their learning goals.

Catalog Management

Lori and Ashley shared that a top pain point is the fact that eCourse does not currently feed course content to the catalog. After a new course or a change to a course is approved, departments, colleges and programs must manually update the catalog at the appropriate time. This creates the potential for discrepancies to occur between what is communicated to students via the catalog and what was approved in eCourse, which feeds into ISIS.

A key function of curriculum management systems is to streamline and simplify the creation and maintenance of the catalog by pulling directly from the approval information to populate the catalog. A curriculum management system would help to ensure that information is standard from approval to published catalog.

Ecosystem Integration

Though eCourse has its flaws, Kimberley was also quick to point out the many benefits it has, including what she considers its most significant benefit: it talks directly to ISIS. “Any new system we implement must be able to talk to the student information system or it will be a step backward for us,” she said.

More than just the SIS, a curriculum management system will also need to integrate with our learning management system, our degree audit system, and the ISA, which helps staff and faculty with pre-planning the schedule of classes. For Erik, the ISA project manager, easier and more timely access to data through APIs or other systems integrations would be a huge improvement.

A curriculum management system would serve as the system of record for the meta-data on courses and curriculum, providing tools like Canvas, uAchieve, the ISA, and the SIS with standardized and readily accessible information.

Clarity of Standards

Another theme that appeared in our conversations was the need to clarify definitions and how those definitions are applied across the university, as well as to standardize language used to describe university-wide offerings.

Alyssa offered the example of instruction types as an area where clearer definitions could be helpful. “What’s the difference between a ‘practicum’ and a ‘tutorial’?” she asked. She pointed out that because it’s not always clear, it’s possible that different departments interpret those two instruction types very differently, leading to differing student experiences.

Erik also noted that unclear definitions create all kinds of issues for projects like the ISA. “From a software perspective, it is much better to have a clearly-defined, consistently-applied rule and a list of exceptions to that rule, than to have a rule that is not well-defined and therefore cannot be consistently-applied,” he said. Right now, he and his team are struggling with this as they are working to incorporate cross-listed, conjoined and co-scheduled course validation into the ISA to assist with scheduling such courses.

While a curriculum management system would not solve these issues, there may be opportunities during the implementation process for University policy makers to address some of the gray areas that currently exist and cause difficulties for both our systems and the users of our systems.


Throughout our conversations, what we heard from every stakeholder was this: eCourse was a great step forward for the University when it was first launched and it is certainly better than the alternative, which is to have no system at all. However, eCourse has not been updated since its launch in 2011 and, because of that, it has not evolved along with our policy and practice.

Alyssa summarized it well: “We’ll do as much as we can within the limitations of the system… and then we’ll do all kinds of work-arounds to actually accomplish what we need to accomplish.” We need a system that will not only meet our immediate needs, but will continue to meet our needs as we grow.

For Erik, the key to implementing any piece of software is not only to think about our current needs, but to consider what we could need five or ten years into the future. When asked how one does that, he replied, “Ask a lot of questions, make deliberate choices, and clearly document those choices and their known consequences.”

While those who will benefit most from the implementation of a curriculum management system are undoubtedly the faculty and staff, students will also benefit. From these conversations, it has become even clearer that the acquisition of a curriculum management system has the potential to free-up the time of faculty and staff to focus on supporting students, creating and implementing new and innovative educational experiences and improving our existing educational offerings, rather than on processes and workarounds.

The team will use the information gathered in these and other conversations as we move forward in the process of searching for the best curriculum management system for the University.

Have something to share about how a curriculum management system could help you or your department? We want to hear from you! Reach out to us at

Category: News, Student & Faculty